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Apologies for the long delay between posts; it’s been an insane year.

Anyway, we are now getting ready for winter here at the House of the Lifted Lorax. We had more insulation installed in the attic a few weeks ago, so we should be able to stay warmer while consuming less energy this winter.

This afternoon, Ron winterized the chicken tractor by installing a little corrugated plastic around one end to block the wind while letting in the light. Here’s a picture of his handiwork:

I was cleaning the kitchen this afternoon and found a couple of styrofoam trays I’d saved, so I turned them into insulation for the outlets. If you want to try something similar, here’s a quick how-to:

1. Gather your materials. You will need styrofoam trays (the kind that come with meat or mushrooms), an Xacto knife, a pen or pencil, an outlet cover, and — if you want to be really precise — a ruler.

2. Lay the outlet cover on the tray and trace around it with a pencil.

3. Cut along the lines. You can use the ruler if you want. I didn’t bother, because the styrofoam cutout is concealed between the outlet cover and the wall anyway. To install it, just put it under the outlet cover and screw both into the wall. (The notch in the middle is for the screw to go through.)

We had the chimney serviced in September to make sure it was safe and ready for winter. Aside from a few spiders hiding out behind the stove, everything was copacetic.

I was chilly this afternoon, so I burned a little cardboard and a couple of pieces of bark in the stove. It wasn’t a big fire or a particularly hot fire, but it was just enough to warm me up and remind me of the nicer parts of winter: toasted marshmallows, slow-cooked posole in the Dutch oven, and Red Zinger brewed from water heated in the teakettle.

Emily

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A classic, in honor of Earth Day.

If you haven’t already, go do something nice for the planet. A few quick, easy ideas:

Replace an incandescent lightbulb with a CFL.
Take a shorter shower.
Shut off the water while you brush your teeth.
Bring your lunch to work in a reusable container instead of ordering takeout.
Consolidate errands to reduce the amount of driving you do.
Walk, bicycle, carpool, or take the bus when possible.
Try a vegetarian or vegan recipe.
Support your local farmers.
Shop at Goodwill.
Recycle.
Precycle.
Buy a Terrapass.
Calculate your environmental footprint.
Unplug the computer when you finish using it to reduce phantom loads.
Take your own reusable cloth bag when you go shopping.
Install a water filter on your kitchen faucet and use it to refill water bottles instead of buying more.

Emily

This past weekend, I had occasion to entertain a group of people that included a vegetarian who avoids cheese made with rennet. The recipe, which was my own invention, drew rave reviews from the whole group, including some pretty dedicated carnivores, so I posted it on Red Fork State of Mind. I thought I’d cross-post it here in case you’re trying to shrink your environmental footprint by working a vegan meal into your diet every now and then:

Vegan Lasagna

1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
1 jar of spaghetti sauce (or make your own with two cans of tomato sauce and your favorite Italian spices)
1 medium yellow squash, sliced
1 green bell pepper
1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 c. chopped onion (frozen kind is OK)
1 box frozen spinach
1 bag julienned carrots
Half a can of cheap beer
1 lb. extra firm tofu (NOT silken)
Two bags vegan mozzarella shreds
Chopped garlic to taste — start with about six cloves and adjust to your liking
Olive oil or margarine

In a wok or large skillet, saute onion and pepper in olive oil or margarine until pepper is soft. In a heavy skillet, brown carrots in olive oil or margarine. Add beer and simmer until it evaporates. While carrots cook, add squash and mushrooms to wok and saute until squash is tender. Thaw spinach in the microwave. Add spinach and cooked carrots to wok. Cook until spinach is heated through. Add garlic and cook very briefly (30 seconds or so).

Using two knives in a criss-cross motion, crumble the tofu.

In a greased baking dish, place a layer of lasagna noodles, a layer of vegetables, a layer of sauce, a layer of vegan mozzarella, and a layer of crumbled tofu. Repeat until all ingredients are used up.

Bake at 350 for about an hour.

Extra-firm tofu is a healthful and less expensive alternative to ricotta cheese, which has a very similar texture and flavor. Lasagna is a very forgiving dish, which means you could start with this recipe and riff on it to your heart’s content. The squash seemed to be the key to the whole thing, but I think zucchini would work as well as yellow squash. If you don’t need it to be truly vegan, use real butter.

I’m not a vegetarian at the moment, although I have been off and on in the past, to varying degrees. I would never advise anyone to attempt a wholesale change in his diet overnight — it’s too extreme, too difficult, and too daunting a prospect to be sustainable for most of us — but eating less meat is a quick way to reduce your carbon footprint, so it’s certainly worth considering.

I’ve set a personal goal of trying one new lacto-ovo-vegetarian recipe and one new vegan recipe each week. I’ll post the best recipes here in case you want to play along at home.

Where possible, I’ll use local, seasonal ingredients, but this evening, I thought I’d give the environment a break by using up things I had on hand rather than making a special trip across town just to pick up ingredients for dinner … so I found a couple of falafel recipes and used them as a basis for improvisation. I was pretty happy with the results:

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Falafel

1 can chickpeas
Five or six baby carrots
Two ribs of celery, cut into chunks
Five or six cloves of garlic
1/4 c. chopped onion (I used frozen, and it worked fine)
1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. cumin
1 tbsp. paprika
A little ground red pepper
3 tbsp. dried parsley
1/4 c. flour
Canola oil for frying

Put all ingredients except oil in food processor and process until smooth. Remove batteries from smoke alarm. Turn on exhaust fan. (These are important steps in my house, as I seem to set off the smoke detector every time I fry anything.) Pour about a half-inch of oil into a heavy skillet and heat for a few minutes. Form falafel mixture into 1-inch balls, flatten a bit to make small patties, and fry in hot oil until browned and crispy on both sides. Makes about 30 pieces.

Falafel is fine by itself, but you can also serve it with tahini sauce (2 parts tahini, 1 part water, and 2 parts lemon juice) for dipping, or stuff pita pockets with falafel, tomatoes, cucumbers, and tahini or tzatziki sauce to make a great sandwich.

(Recipe cross-posted from Red Fork State of Mind.)

Emily

Here is a quick, free way to eliminate tiny drafts around the house. I learned it from my mom when I was about 4, and I’ve never forgotten it:

1. Save the polystyrene trays that are used to package meat, mushrooms, and other foods. (Polystyrene egg carton lids will work for this purpose.)
2. Take the plastic cover off an electrical outlet.
3. Use the cover as a pattern to make a polystyrene cutout the same shape and size as the cover.
4. Put the cover back on the outlet, wedging the polystyrene cutout between the cover and the wall.

Do this on all your outlets — especially those on exterior walls — to help reduce heat loss.

This seems insignificant, but it really helps, it doesn’t cost anything, and it’s an easy way to recycle polystyrene that otherwise would end up in a landfill.

If you have a lot of styrofoam trays, you could even make some of these for your friends.

In the interest of making this blog a little more useful to readers, I’m adding a “tip of the week” feature to help those who are interested in moving toward increased energy and a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. Most of these tips will be small, simple, inexpensive projects you can do to reduce your impact on the environment.

This week’s tip is about reducing phantom loads.

Wikipedia defines a phantom load as “the power consumed by any device when it is switched off.”

Some electrical appliances and gadgets use power even when they’re supposedly shut off. Televisions, for instance, constantly draw a small amount of power. Built-in digital clocks, such as those found on microwaves and VCRs, draw power. Anything with speakers is a potential phantom load. Anything with an LED that stays lit all the time is a phantom load.

You can reduce phantom loads in one of three ways:

1. Unplug these appliances when they are not in use.
2. Connect outlets to a wall switch and shut off the switch when the appliances plugged into the outlet are not in use.
3. Plug appliances into a power strip (such as the surge protectors used for computers and other electronic equipment) and switch off the power strip when the appliances are not in use.

Individually, phantom loads don’t seem like a big deal. But together, they add up … and it’s galling to think about paying for electricity to power something that you aren’t even using.

Do the environment a favor: Pick up a power strip next time you’re at an electronics store and use it to eliminate a phantom load or two around the house. It’s an easy, inexpensive way to make your environmental footprint just a little smaller.

Emily

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With a woodstove in the middle of the living room, we have a ready supply of very warm, very dry air to dry our clothes. Sometimes that air is a little too dry, which is one reason I keep a teakettle of water on top of the stove at all times.

I decided to kill two birds with one stone this evening by putting up this handy-dandy winter clothes dryer, which hangs next to the woodstove, saves us money on gas and electricity, and effectively turns our wet garments into makeshift humidifiers.

All I did was screw some hooks into the wall just above our bay window and hang large-link decorative chain from the hooks. I just put all the laundry on plastic coathangers (no metal — they’ll rust and ruin your clothes) and hang it from the chains, which will easily accommodate an entire load of laundry. When the clothes are dry, I just put the clothes in the closet and stash the chains in the laundry room.

As you can see in the picture, the hooks are also performing a decorative function at the moment, holding up a string of energy-efficient LED Christmas lights, which I got for about $8 at Home Depot.

For those of you who may have missed the solar tour on Saturday, I put together a sort of virtual tour of our home, indoors and out, to give you an idea of some of the things we’re doing to reduce our environmental footprint. You can view the slideshow here.

Emily

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I think our hens may have been even more popular than our solar panels this afternoon as we led tours of the House of the Lifted Lorax. They certainly made a big hit with my young neighbor, who has been watching them from afar (or at least from across the easement) for months. He wasn’t comfortable with the idea of petting them when we took them out of the chicken tractor, but he definitely liked watching them through the chicken wire. When his mom and grandma got ready to leave, we had to coax him inside with the promise of a cookie (oatmeal-cranberry-chocolate-chip, made with honey and eggs from our backyard).

Between 20 and 25 visitors from all walks of life stopped by to see the house and yard. We had some old friends show up, we made some new friends, we got to know a few of our neighbors a little better, and we had a surreal but utterly wonderful moment shooting the bull with a pair of self-described “old hippies” who could have been us in 20 years.

One of our visitors told us she’d come more for the chickens than anything else, and one couple on the tour walked out to the backyard to see the solar array but shifted their focus to the chicken tractor the minute they saw it. As it turns out, they’ve been thinking about keeping chickens but weren’t sure how to start, being city dwellers. I think our feisty, funny Bond Chicks offered them as much encouragement as anything I might have said. I hope they’ll post and let us know how they’re doing when they get a flock of their own.

Our bees were a big hit, too, and several people were interested in the LED “lightbulb” in my desk lamp, which isn’t the brightest light in the world but is pretty whizbang nonetheless.

If you missed the tour, the organizers are already planning to do another one next fall. I am also hoping to get a hand free in the near future to put together a kind of virtual tour to give you a sense of what’s possible … and in the meantime, you can
click here
to see a copy of the flier we handed out, explaining the various things we’ve done to reduce our ecological footprint.

I’ll leave you with one more dose of cute:

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Have a good weekend, and go do something nice for the environment.

Emily

From a strictly mathematical standpoint, our new grid-tied solar panels did not give the environment the biggest possible bang for our buck. Donating $10,000 worth of CFLs to the Salvation Army to distribute to needy families probably would have made a much bigger impact. But part of my motivation in shrinking our personal environmental footprint was to serve as an example to those who operate under the mistaken belief that taking care of the Earth means sacrificing all your creature comforts and running away to live in the woods with the Rainbow Family.

A year or so ago, I arranged for John Miggins of Harvest Solar to give a presentation on alternative energy to Tulsa’s local Mensa chapter. It was a great presentation, and most of the members asked good questions and had interesting things to say. But John and I were thoroughly dismayed by the reaction he got from a member who claimed to be an environmental science teacher, but whose comments on the subject made Jim Inhofe look like Gaylord Nelson.

When I described for this woman the simple changes I’d made to reduce my environmental footprint, her response was something between pity and raw contempt. It was pretty clear that she thought I was living in a hovel unfit for human habitation, and no amount of explanation was going to convince her otherwise.

Her attitude and ignorance were appalling, but they made me realize the desperate need for real-life examples of ordinary people living ordinary lives without wreaking havoc on the environment in the process. I realized that every dinner party I threw, every basket of produce I took to the office, every bouquet of flowers or jar of honey I shared with a friend could serve as a testimonial to the benefits of doing right by the environment.

Life is good here at the House of the Lifted Lorax. As I write this, our power meter is running backwards, watermelon is ripening on the vine behind the back fence, and Scout and I are enjoying an omelet Ron made for us out of the eggs our hens laid yesterday. I just brought in five enormous cucumbers, a dozen ripe tomatoes, a half-dozen hot peppers, and a handful of fresh okra pods from the garden.

Last night, I canned a gallon of homemade salsa made from my heirloom tomatoes and peppers, and this evening, I’ll bake a blackberry cobbler — sweetened with honey produced by our bees — while I put up pickles and hot sauce. I need to scrub down the dehydrator so I can dry some basil and peppermint.

We’re going to get in Ron’s Honda Insight and take a Sunday drive in a little while, because I want to check out the LED lamps and camping gear at the Bass Pro Shop. (I’ve got a couple of energy-saving ideas I’m experimenting with; more on that later.)

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to collect photos and sounds for a virtual open house that will give all our blog readers a glimpse into the realities of life in the carpool lane. I’ll also be doing a series of posts on simple ways to reduce your environmental footprint.

Stay tuned. 🙂

Emily